Dolly Alderton talks female friendships, getting through your twenties and Everything I Know About Love

Dolly Alderton talks female friendships, getting through your twenties and Everything I Know About Love

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Monday, 13th June 2022
Credit: Alexandra Cameron
Credit: Alexandra Cameron

It’s 2012, the summer Olympics has taken over London, David Cameron has left his child in a pub and the Queen is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee. 

It’s during this year that the adaptation of Dolly Alderton’s memoir Everything I Know About Love takes place.

Tackling heartbreak, friendship, relationships and love, it focuses on four friends living in a Camden house share, trying to find their place in the world together. 

The drama explores the question: can platonic love survive romantic love as we grow up?

The series focuses on childhood best friends Maggie (Emma Appleton) and Birdy (Bel Powley), who are based on Alderton and her real-life best friend Farly. 

Alderton is no stranger to exploring the concept of love, having written a dating column for The Sunday Times when she was 27 and hosted a podcast called Love Stories, which featured celebrities talking about their greatest love stories.

Described as Sex and The City for millennials, Everything I Know About Love feels less New York glamour and more sticky pub floors in North London.

Although the series is based on Alderton’s memoir, she decided to not be limited by reality and used some creative licence. 

“Initially I was very wedded to the idea that the series had to be very directly based on the book, I thought that’s what adaptation was,” Alderton explained.

“The minute I decided to change the characters’ names, I actually realised there was loads I could change, I could add in new characters and expand the world.”

Credit: BBC
Everything I Know About Love (Credit: BBC)

As both the writer and producer, Alderton embraced this freedom and created the characters Amara (Aliyah Odoffin) and Nell (Marli Siu), who aren’t based directly on anyone in her memoir but are close friends of Maggie and Birdy, making up the Camden quartet. 

With the series mirroring Alderton’s own life so closely, it was hard for her to not feel nostalgic, especially being on set 90% of the time and watching the girls partying, dancing and drinking together.

Despite knowing the cast were really drinking grape juice and not using real cigarettes, Alderton couldn’t help but become wistful with how convincing it all felt. 

“I would go back to where I was living in Manchester and watch the rushes from the day and think, I’m really in the mood now. I’d open a bottle of wine and get gently pissed on my own and have a fag and be hungover the next day,” laughed Alderton.

Nostalgia for their own early adulthood isn’t the only thing viewers will feel watching the series. 

The overwhelming theme and constant focus of the show is the love that comes from our friendships, which Alderton calls a “lifelong commitment”.

Alderton never set out to write a book about friendship. Thinking back to her 20s, she found herself always on the lookout for the next man who would be her fairytale love story, but on reflection, most of her romantic adventures were with the ensemble of women she called her friends.

“It was a total accident that on every page of every chapter there were these women who I lived with, cried to, travelled with and built a home with. It was only then I realised they had been there on every page of my life,” explained Alderton. 

In between her encounters with men, Alderton remembers what she called “low-key” hanging out with her female friends.

“I was doing things like going to movies, sitting at home eating pasta with them, getting the tube together and it was only later I realised I hadn’t been spending time with them, I’d been falling in love. It was a love story."

Credit: BBC
Credit: BBC

These interlinking micro moments, relationships and lessons she learnt while experiencing the love story of her 20s are what Alderton sees as the thrust of the show.

It is a love story, but not the one women have grown up and been conditioned to believe is the ultimate prize. 

Despite all four women in the series being the same age, Alderton wanted to reflect the confusion people often feel about what’s the best way to “do” your 20s. 

“I knew some 26-year-olds who lived with a partner and golden doodle dog, and then some who were still living at home and others who were smoking from a bong all day. It’s kind of open season that decade,” said Alderton.

“Your 20s is about finding your feet, financially supporting yourself, working out what kind of person and adult you want to be, what your taste in things is like. It’s a lot of fucking work. It’s amazing twentysomethings have time to do anything else.”

This work and the different paths twentysomethings can take are evident in the show.

The beginning of the series sees Maggie and Birdy struggling to find proper ‘grown-up’ jobs, instead earning money handing out flyers in ridiculous inflatable outfits. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Nell and Amara hold down sensible jobs as a schoolteacher and corporate office worker respectively. 

The dawn of dating apps highlights another contrast between the women, with Birdy and Nell in steady, sensible relationships, while Maggie and Amara are swiping left and right with reckless abandon, racking up wild dating anecdotes.

From her own 20s, Alderton learnt a valuable lesson she continues to practice in her 30s: “The greatest sense of peace, happiness and contentment you can achieve in this life is knowing you are safe to be the same person in every situation.

“That’s what real freedom is, to feel safe in yourself. That you don’t have to shapeshift to please other people,” mused Alderton.

Credit: BBC
Credit: BBC

The key question the series asks is if platonic love can survive romantic love as we grow up. 

When Birdy starts dating nice guy Nathan, Maggie instantly feels a rift between them and struggles to share her closest friend with someone else. 

Birdy, however, is too swept up in the giddiness of first love to give Maggie the time and attention she craves, with Maggie fearing she’s losing her best friend. 

“I think in your 20s you’re trying to survive first love. First relationships sort of burgle your heart and your friend’s heart at some point, and I think most friendships get through that because you realise how worth investing in they are.”

Now Alderton is in her 30s, the biggest challenge facing her friendships are family life, raising children and climbing the career ladder. 

“Every decade presents a different challenge, and I think you find different ways of navigating them,” considered Alderton when she thought about the evolution of friendships. 

“Your lives may look wildly different, but each person’s triumph and tragedy are equally as important, and you need to hold space for each other.”

Everything I Know About Love airs on Tuesdays at 10.40pm on BBC One, with all episodes available on BBC iPlayer.

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It’s 2012, the summer Olympics has taken over London, David Cameron has left his child in a pub and the Queen is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee.